Histoire de ma vie  

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Portrait of Giacomo Casanova
Portrait of Giacomo Casanova

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
French literature, 19th century literature

Histoire de ma vie (Story of my Life) is both the memoir and autobiography of Giacomo Casanova, a famous 18th century Italian adventurer. A previous, bowdlerized version was originally known in English as The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova (from the French Mémoires de Jacques Casanova) until the original version was published in 1960.

Although Casanova was Venetian (born 1725 in Venice), the book is written in French, which was the dominant language in the upper class at the time. The book covers Casanova's life only through 1774, although the full title of the book is Histoire de ma vie jusqu'à l'an 1797, (History of my Life until the year 1797). Its first publication was in German in 1822.

On February 18, 2010, the National Library of France purchased a 3,700 page manuscript of Histoire de ma vie for approximately €7 million. The manuscript is believed to have been given to Casanova's nephew, Carlo Angiolini, in 1798. The manuscript is believed to contain pages not previously read or published.



He used charm, guile, threats, intimidation, and aggression, when necessary, to conquer women, sometimes leaving behind children or debt. In his autobiography Histoire de ma vie (Story of My Life), regarded as one of the most authentic sources of the customs and norms of European social life during the 18th century, he mentions 122 women with whom he had sex.

Contents of the book

The book comprises 12 volumes and approximately 3500 pages, covering Casanova's life from his birth to 1774.

Story of the manuscript

Casanova allegedly wrote the first chapters of the book in 1789, during a profound illness.

In 1794, Casanova met Charles Joseph, Prince de Ligne. The two of them established a mutual friendship. The Prince expressed a desire to read Casanova's memoirs, and Casanova decided to polish the manuscript before sending it to the Prince. After reading at least the first three tomes of the manuscript, Charles Joseph suggested that the memoir be shown to an editor in Dresden to publish in exchange for an annuity. Casanova was convinced to publish the manuscript, but chose another route. In 1797, he asked Marcolini Di Fano, minister at the Cabinet of the Saxon Court, to help him with the publication.

In May 1798, Casanova was alone in Dux. He foresaw his death and asked for members of his family currently residing in Dresden to come and support him in his last moments. Carlo Angiolini, the husband of Casanova's niece, traveled without delay from Dresden to Dux. After Casanova's death, he returned to Dresden with the manuscript. Carlo himself died in 1808 and the manuscript passed to his daughter Camilla. Because of the Napoleonic Wars, the climate was not favorable for publishing the memoirs of a character belonging to a past age. After the Battle of Leipzig (1813), Marcolini remembered the manuscript and offered 2500 Thalers to Camilla's tutor, who judged the offer too modest and refused.

After some years, the Recession compromised the wealth of Camilla's family. She asked her brother Carlo to quickly sell the manuscript. In 1821, it was sold to the editor Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus. Brockhaus asked Wilhelm von Schütz to translate the book into German. Some extracts of the translation and the first volume were published as early as 1822. The collaboration between Brockhaus and Schütz stopped in 1824, after the publication of the fifth volume. The other volumes were then translated by another unknown translator.

Due to the success of the German edition, the French editor Tournachon decided to publish the book in France. Tournachon had no access to the original manuscript, and so the French text of his edition was translated from the German translation. The text was heavily censored. In response to the piracy Brockhaus brought out a second edition in French, edited by Jean Laforgue (1782-1852) which was very unreliable as Laforgue altered Casanova's religious and political views as well as censoring sexual references. The French volumes were published from 1826 to 1838. These editions were also successful, and another French pirate edition was prepared with another translation from the German edition. As the German edition was not entirely published at this time, this edition allegedly contains passages invented by the translator.

From 1838 to 1960, all the editions of the memoirs were derived from one of these editions. Arthur Machen used one of these inaccurate versions for his English translation published in 1894 which remained the standard English edition for many years.

The original manuscript was stored in the editor's head office in Leipzig until June 1945, when it was moved to the new head office in Wiesbaden just before Leipzig was heavily bombed. In 1960, a collaboration between Brockhaus and the French editor Plon led to the first original edition of the manuscript.


  • Digne ou indigne, ma vie est ma matière, ma matière est ma vie (Worthy or not, my life is my subject, and my subject is my life)
  • Le lecteur qui aime à penser verra dans ces mémoires que n'ayant jamais visé un point fixe, le seul système que j'eus, si c'en est un, fut de me laisser aller où le vent qui soufflait me poussait (The reader of these Memoirs will discover that I never had any fixed aim before my eyes, and that my system, if it can be called a system, has been to glide away unconcernedly on the stream of life, trusting to the wind wherever it led)


I Modi

Giacomo Casanova in his memoirs mentions spending New Year's Eve 1753 with a nun doing Aretino's 'straight tree' position from I Modi, which he says featured the man standing and holding the woman upside-down for mutual oral sex.

Main editions

Schütz translation (1822-1828)

This first edition is a censored German translation for Brockhaus (the first half was translated by Wilhelm von Schütz, the remaining parts by an unknown translator). Its "original" title is: Aus den Memoiren des Venetianers Jacob Casanova de Seingalt, oder sein Leben, wie er es zu Dux in Böhmen niederschried. Nach dem Original-Manuscript bearbeitet von Wilhelm von Schütz.

Tournachon-Molin translation (1825-1829)

The success of the first German edition swans a pirate edition, without access to the original manuscript. The first French edition is a German to French translation from the French to German Schütz translation, which results in a very approximate and imperfect text.

Laforgue adaptation (1826-1838)

In reaction to the pirate edition, Brockhaus decides to publish its own French edition. This edition is done with the original manuscript, but still censored and "arranged" by Jean Laforgue. Laforgue rewrites parts of the text, and even add some others of his own. Furthermore, four chapters of the manuscript are not returned to the publisher. The edition was prepared from 1825 to 1831, but difficulties with the censors will slow the publishing of the volumes, especially after the book has been put in the list of Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1834.

Several editions are in fact reeditions of this Laforgue edition:

  • Garnier edition (1880). Its a popular and cheap edition.
  • The La Sirène edition (1924-1935).
  • The Pleiade edition (1958-1960).

Busoni pirate edition (1833-1837)

The Laforgue edition success spawn a new pirate edition in France. First this new edition is a copy of the eight first published volumes of the Laforgue edition, but because the other volumes of the Laforgue edition are slow to be published because of censorship, the publisher Paulin ask a journalist, Philippe Busoni, to write them. Busoni writes the two remaining volumes using the Tournachon-Molin translation, adding new episodes coming from himself.

Several reeditions of the Busoni edition are:

  • The Rozez reedition (1860).
  • The Flammarion reedition (1871-1872).

The Brockhaus-Plon reference (1960-1962)

The manuscript remained hidden for a lot of time because Brockhaus didn't want to be pirated anymore. Then wars and economics crisis slowed their edition projects until the end of the 1950s.

The first complete and authentic edition of the text was published between 1960 and 1962 (minus the four lost chapters, replaced by their Laforgue version, with the annotations by Schütz).

The Bouquins reedition (1993) has since become the French reference edition.


The only non-abridged translation is the Willard R. Trask edition, in twelve volumes.

Casanova's memoirs were published in more than 20 languages and 400 editions, mostly in French, English, or German. The main translations are now all based on the Brockhaus-Plon reference:

In German :

  • Wilhelm von Schütz Aus den Memoiren des Venetianers Jacob Casanova de Seingalt [etc.]. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1822-1828. : a censored translation of the original manuscript. Regularly reedited beginning in 1850

In English:

  • Arthur Machen The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt[1]. London: F. A. Brockhaus, 1894. : a complete translation of the censored Laforgue text. Regularly reedited, including the revised Arthur Symons translation in 1902, then in 1940
  • Willard R. Trask History of My Life. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966-1971. : a complete translation of the Brockhaus-Plon reference.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Histoire de ma vie" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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